Alex McGough showed all of FIU’s resilience in one play late in Saturday’s 30-29 comeback win against Charlotte at Riccardo Silva Stadium.
The senior quarterback galloped for a 14-yard touchdown in the third quarter to get the Panthers within two points of the 49ers after his team trailed 26-7 earlier in the game. He juked several defenders on the play, before hurdling one last obstacle and stretching the ball into the end zone.
“Just a good call,” McGough said. “It was a good block by the o-line. It was a zone-read play and the end squeezed down to try to tackle [Alex Gardner], who had been gashing them all game. I just took what I had. I saw a guy coming this way and I just jumped.”
“I got in the end zone and I didn’t really know how to celebrate.”
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A comeback didn’t look possible in the first half, as the Panthers’ defense was a turnstile for the 49ers rushing attack.
The Panthers — who surrendered 237 combined rushing yards in their previous two games — gave up 277 in the first half Saturday.
Coach Butch Davis’ crew allowed just 72 rushing yards in the second half.
“At halftime we got a chance to get the outside linebackers, the safeties, the defensive ends all on the same page,” Davis said. “To make sure that they played with eye discipline and did their responsibility and they did a heck of a job.”
FIU (3-1, 2-0 C-USA) outscored Charlotte 23-3 in the final 30:43 of the contest, the first game the Panthers have hosted on campus this season.
“It is amazing,” Davis said. “The perseverance and the heart and the courage that these kids showed … there were plenty of opportunities, especially in the first half, to kind of get down and just say ‘Well you know what? Maybe today just isn’t our day.’
“They kept fighting and kept fighting and kept fighting. I don’t know if I could be any prouder of this group of guys.”
The 49ers (0-5, 0-1 C-USA) put up 12 unanswered points in the first quarter before the Panthers could answer back.
But the retort was beautiful.
McGough took the snap and handed off to running back Collin Olsen. Thomas Owens then secured a flip pass on the reverse before dropping back for a pass. He launched the football 35 yards for a touchdown pass to Julian Williams at 6:11 in the first quarter.
“We went through it in practice all week, we knew it was coming and we executed,” Owens said.
Charlotte quarterback Hassan Klugh then added his second and third rushing touchdowns of the game to put the 49ers up 26-7. But Owens reached the end zone 43 seconds before the half on a 6-yard pass from McGough to make the score 26-14 at the break.
“It was laser focus,” McGough said. “I kept telling the guys: Laser focus. Just stay to what we are here to do and we are going to be fine.”
Charlotte added a field goal before the Panthers tightened the game again.
McGough ran for two scores late in the third quarter to make the score 29-27. FIU kicker Jose Borregales drilled a 27-yarder with 7:22 remaining to give the Panthers their 30-29 advantage.
The 49ers missed a 48-yard field goal attempt with 33 seconds remaining in the game to try for the win, but the ball sailed right.
McGough completed 14-of-26 passes for 206 yards, one score and an interception. He also had 46 yards and two scores on six carries. Owens had 101 yards and a score on seven receptions for FIU. Benny LeMay led the 49ers with 178 yards on 22 carries. Klugh completed 16-of-28 passes for 155 yards and a score through the air while running for 107 yards and three scores on 15 carries.
FIU travels to play Middle Tennessee at 3 p.m. Oct. 7 at Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro for its third conference game of the season. The Panthers have beaten Charlotte in all three of their matchups in school history.